July 1999
s m u g
by Todd Levin


Stoop to Conquer

In Brooklyn, the brownstone stoop is an architectural metaphor for the inglorious human condition, a place where time is indefinite and residents dwell, slack and undignified, their ugliest human traits on display for the swiftly commuting public. The stoop is often falsely depicted (in film and corporate videos) as a replacement for the Forum, where the public embraces the public and ideas are exchanged. Not so. The stoop might offer a concurring high-five over the merits of middleweight boxers, but this subject could just as easily offer a nonverbal grunt or an unsolicited sleeper hold. The stoop is about as indecent as its name sounds. Here fights break out. Alcohol is served and served and served. Distorted music rattles the more reserved neighbors, the ones who choose to keep their parties to themselves indoors. Brows are mopped slowly and puckered eyes scan passers-by, wishing on them a dogspit film of inept sexual longing mixed with lazy, murderous resentment.

Me, I like a stoop.

I have longed for a real stoop ever since I settled into Brooklyn almost five years ago. I want a place to snuggle my fat ass, scream at pedestrians, read the racing forms, and get publicly drunk before 2pm. I imagine people passing in front of my stoop, picking up their pace or holding their children more closely as I (most likely pantsless) scream, "Go ahead, call the cops! Whadda youse lookin' at? If a man wanna have some beef chili and Mexican rum in his drawers in front of his own home, who got a problem with that? This my home! This my!! I'm building a plastic museum, suckahs!" And so on. The stoop holds that fine privilege.

Perhaps the finest privilege the stoop holds for its owners is the real estate mercantile birthright - the stoop sale. The stoop sale is a Brooklyn phenomenon. There is nothing like it in the borough of Manhattan. It's what makes Brooklyn a real neighborhood rather than just a cluttered island of transients. And, if you've seen some of the absolute shit that people are willing to sell at their stoop sales, you'd agree that it's also what makes Brooklyn a real second-rate neighborhood. The Brooklyn stoop sale is the perfect extension of the stoop itself. If the stoop is a stage for the absurd, profane human drama, the stoop sale is the props department.

stoop sale

In my neighborhood, from the months of April through late October, each weekend promises at least 10-20 "fantastic", "can't miss" stoop sales. Every street corner is blitzed with fliers comingling with fliers, covering lamp posts so densely that it's almost impossible to gain visual control of where one stoop sale ends and the next begins. And, just as quickly as the fliers went up on Saturday morning, they come down again on Sunday evening - as if nothing ever happened.

The sheer volume of stoops and sales has forced people to seek more creative means of advertising. Last weekend, nestled between desktop-published handbills (promising "MEGA STOOP SALES" and "STOOP-ENDOUS SAVINGS") adorned with clip art from the Money & Finance series, was a well-placed flier which read, simply: "WATCH ME CARESS MY TESTICLES ALL DAY SATURDAY AND SUNDAY -- FREE!!!" Next to my flier was another which read, "YOU'D HAVE TO BE STOOP-ID TO MISS THIS SALE!!" Well, I wasn't going to let anybody call me stoopid, so I decided to check it out.

I have a theory about how stoop sales began to proliferate in my neighborhood, and this particular stoop sale tested, confirmed and closed the book on my theory. The theory: someone passes a stoop sale and decides to check it out. There they are confronted by the most unconscionable trash you can imagine. Three left shoes, a Country Tyme lemonade tub, some birthday candles. The stoop sale customer says to himself (or, if he waits until later, while he's sitting on his stoop clothed only in a Hefty cinch-sac and Dr. Scholls, he screams to anyone within earshot), "Why, I've got stuff in my apartment that I was just going to throw out and it's even better than some of the crap I saw today." And that's just what he does. Yes, ostensibly it's still garbage...but it's HIS garbage.

This stoop sale was no different. The inventory was composed almost entirely of items that should never be used, then re-sold. Highlights included the following: an open can of Surge soda (half-full and half price! the stoop proprietor assured me), a hairbrush, a hospital robe, loose strands of mint-flavored dental floss floating in some sort of antiseptic fluid which looked a bit like cinnamon Plax or possibly Five-Alive, an ashtray filled with assorted prescription pills that were being sold by the quarter-pound, and two pickles covered generously in ketchup (which looked suspiciously fresh, especially in light of the fact that the stoop proprietor was residing over the sale with an Arch Deluxe stuffed in his mouth). Worse yet were the Star Wars collectible action figures. They were arranged in tiers on a table, from least valuable (Lobot and Walrus Man were fetching $5 each) to most valuable (advertised at $15 were Luke, Han, Darth and, if I wasn't mistaken, a Moses Hightower Police Academy action figure with a cloth cape tied around its neck).

The Star Wars figures were the most offensive items, I think, mostly because they were being sold to children and their outrageous mark-up was based on a perceived value rather than any real value. They made me hate this man. I am aware that an original model Princess Leia action figure might command a decent price if it was in pristine shape, but one of these figures (I think it was an Ewok or Wet Leprosy Chewbacca) could actually only be viewed through a special X-ray screen the stoop proprietor had set up in front of his sleeping Rottweiller's large intestine. There was even a sign next to the dog that read, "THIS FIGURE AVAILABLE IN 12-48 HOURS." I put a down payment on it, and purchased a pair of contact lenses that fit perfectly. But I wasn't happy about it.

As my financial mobility continues to skyrocket I can feel myself hurtling closer and closer to having my own stoop (my current apartment has a shallow ravine running four feet before the front door). And I know that when I make it there, I will never need to be anyplace else. I will enjoy my indolence, chemical dependency, and damaged personal life, and will enjoy them even more knowing I will be sharing them with my entire neighborhood. And when people show up at my annual stoop sale, browsing through my reasonably priced used bath soaps, medicated turtlenecks, and I.U.D.'s, I will stand (or lean drunkenly) back with pride, knowing the cops and the feds and the neighborhood watch wouldn't dare touch a man ON HIS OWN STOOP.





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